What’s your favorite Christmas carol? “O Little Town of Bethlehem”? “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”? “The First Noel?” “O Come All Ye Faithful”? “Silent Night”?
The latter has long been my favorite, for many reasons. But lately I’ve found myself captivated by “Mary, Did You Know?” written by Mark Lowry. This beautiful tune is heard everywhere now, covered by singers ranging from Carrie Underwood and Dolly Parton to Pentatonix and CeeLo Green.
If you’re not familiar with it (maybe you’ve been vacationing in Fiji trying to escape COVID and the relentless election advertising?), “Mary, Did You Know?” poses an intriguing question about how the earthly mother of Jesus responded to what her child, conceived by the Holy Spirit, would do, culminating with His crucifixion and resurrection. Here’s a portion of the lyrics:
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
… would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you
Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
… calm a storm with his hand?
… When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God…
Mary did you know?
I’ll not venture into how Christian traditions regard Mary differently, but can you imagine? A young woman, probably still in her mid-teens, entrusted with the responsibility of parenting the Son of God – God incarnate? Especially when so many teenagers these days can’t even be entrusted with the task of cleaning up their rooms.
It's recorded in Luke 1:26-38 how the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, who was betrothed to be married to Joseph, a carpenter. When the angel said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” In response, it says, “Mary was greatly troubled with his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” Can we blame her? Here she was, looking forward to her wedding, and suddenly an angel appears with a very special message, one she never could have anticipated.
Then came the big news: The angel declared, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Wow! Not words she was expecting to hear.
Humbly she asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Sounds like a reasonable question to me. The angel didn’t beat around the bush. He replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Then, sensing Mary might have been thinking, “Say what?” the angel added, “For nothing is impossible with God.”
Never before – or after – has anything like this happened. Probably overwhelmed with awe, wonder, and a bit of confusion, Mary humbly answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left, leaving her to sort through a range of thoughts and emotions we can only imagine.
Obviously, most of the details weren’t addressed in this divine encounter. The angel didn’t tell about the many miracles Jesus would perform, or the profound and unparalleled teachings He would present. The persecution He would face, or how she would witness His horrific, sacrificial death on the cross, fulfilling His destiny to save His people from their sins. Or His resurrection, declaring once and for all God’s victory over death.
So Mark Lowry aptly asks in his wonderful song, “Mary did you know?... The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again. The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb. Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?...that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?”
Surely Mary could not have known any of this, or many other things that to this day challenge our understanding. We’re told that as more was revealed to her, from the lowly shepherds, the Magi, John the Baptist and many others, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). We would be wise to do the same.